Updated Mar 18, 2014 - 5:31 pm
Arizona House budget to mirror Senate's $9.2B plan
PHOENIX -- A mirror copy of the state budget introduced in the Arizona Senate will be introduced in the House of Representatives later this week, Speaker Andy Tobin said Tuesday.
The move comes as negotiations with Gov. Jan Brewer begin but with her staff rejecting the Senate's $9.2 billion spending proposal.
Tobin said he met with Brewer on Tuesday and she sees the proposal as a good first step.
"She's working and we've agreed to continue to meet through the week and see where we can come to common ground," Tobin said. "She saw this as a good first start as far as I could tell from our meeting today."
Brewer's spokesman said the Senate proposal comes more than two months after she issued her $9.36 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and without the negotiations that normally precede actual budget bill introductions.
"This is not the usual fashion for budget dealings," spokesman Andrew Wilder said. "We're pleased to see they put something forward but it's far off from what we'd like to see or would accept."
Tobin says the House bills should be introduced this week and he hopes the House Appropriations Committee takes up the budget early next week.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed all nine bills in Senate President Andy Biggs' budget plan Tuesday afternoon. Biggs says he hopes the Senate can vote on the proposal that contemplates spending more about $200 million less than Brewer is proposing.
Republicans who control the Legislature wrote the budget proposal, and Democrats were largely unhappy.
"I do have many concerns and issues on this budget but truly what concerns me most is the transparency issue for our public," said Sen. Anna Tovar, the leader of Senate Democrats. She complained her caucus has less than 17 hours to review the bills before they were taken up by the committee.
Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber said there will be plenty of time for the public to review the budget as it works its way through the Legislature.
Senate Majority Whip Adam Driggs said the Senate needed to roll out a budget to break a logjam. Passing a state budget is the main priority of the Legislature each year.
"We need to start a process. I think that our desire is to continue to work with the governor's office and the House, but it has to start somewhere," said Driggs, R-Phoenix. "So, we're starting. We need to be able to pass a budget out of the Senate that will get 16 votes. That's not an easy task."
The Appropriations Committee received details of some of the changes the Senate wants from Brewer's proposal.
Among the most controversial is a retroactive ban on public school districts converting schools to charter schools. Districts get more per-student funding for charters.
The proposal would save the state about $37 million this year, and districts are opposed.
Other changes to school funding include cutting money for Brewer's planned school broadband plan, cuts to her school performance funding plan and stripping money for a new student assessment test. That assessment test is designed to replace the old AIMS test and measure how students are learning under new standards known as Common Core.
"I essentially don't know where to start on this bill and on how detrimental it will be on our students," said Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix. "This provides no accountability for our schools and for our children."
Other points of contention in the Senate included funding for community college technical education programs and a lower amount of money for the governor's overhaul of the state's child welfare agency.
The Senate's budget proposals will likely change significantly to win support in the House and from Brewer.